McDonald shakes up playing time in first exhibition

WKU guard Brandon Peters drives down the court during Sunday’s first home exhibition game of the season. WKU’s next home game will host Xavier at home on Thursday Nov. 4.

Zach Greenwell

It was an unusual sight to see senior forward Sergio Kerusch sitting on the bench when WKU tipped off against Campbellsville Sunday.

Kerusch wasn’t being disciplined, and he wasn’t injured.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said he’d simply been outplayed by freshman guard Brandon Peters.

“I don’t want you to read into it a lot,” McDonald said. “I didn’t want Sergio to read into that a lot. I said, ‘I want you to handle this like a mature adult and a senior.’”

Kerusch eventually played 26 minutes and had a game-high 11 rebounds in WKU’s 80-57 exhibition win, but the message that playing time is up for grabs was clear.

All 12 of WKU’s eligible players played against Campbellsville, and all but three played at least 11 minutes.

Much of McDonald’s praise didn’t go to the usual players. He lauded the efforts of Peters, as well as senior forward Cliff Dixon, who had six points and six rebounds in 11 minutes.

“He’s come a long way,” McDonald said of Dixon. “He’s made a little bit of a name and reputation with our staff because he’s been consistent, and he’s played hard.”

McDonald said last week that the one thing that could earn playing time was effort, and it showed Sunday.

He said benching Kerusch was meant to “get his attention” because he had struggled with defensive lapses in practice.

McDonald also kept junior point guard Ken Brown out of the game until there were just three minutes remaining. Freshmen forwards Stephon Drane and Kene Anyigbo only played a combined 11 minutes.

“Coach Mac told us before the game that this wasn’t going to be a perfect game,” senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said. “It was the first time out there together, so we were just trying to get in a rhythm and work on the little things.”

As disjointed as the team’s seven newcomers looked on offense in the first half, they played a big role in WKU’s late 21-4 run that sealed the win.

Senior forward Juan Pattillo, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, said it took the Toppers a while to find a groove because there were so many newcomers in the fold, including himself.

“I give it all up to the defense and the team as a whole,” Pattillo said. “We kind of started off sluggish, so it took us a minute to get in the rhythm, but then we picked it up on the defensive end.”

In what was perhaps the biggest sign that no one’s minutes are sacred, freshman walk-on Mike Gabbard played 13 minutes as a backup point guard, with Brown designated to the bench.

Gabbard was added to the roster just before the game and was wearing former guard Anthony Sally’s old jersey with tape over the name.

McDonald said he has no problem playing a large number of players, including Gabbard, as long as they get the job done.

Depth is a powerful tool for a defense-oriented team, so the more the merrier, he said.

“Some of those guys that are coming off the bench — they’ve got a ways to go with the whole system and expectations that we have,” McDonald said. “As we get better, you’ll see more and more guys getting in the lineup.”